Mum of pupil at Portsmouth hepatitis school tells of her fears

Concerns have been raised about the number of children not vaccinated against hepatitis. File picture shows a vaccination being given
Concerns have been raised about the number of children not vaccinated against hepatitis. File picture shows a vaccination being given

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CONCERNS have been raised about the number of children not vaccinated against hepatitis A following an outbreak at a school.

As reported in The News, 150 children and adults are being vaccinated against the virus. It has now been confirmed that eight people have been diagnosed, six of whom are children.

Public Health England confirmed some classes at Devonshire Infant School and Fernhurst Junior School, both in Francis Avenue, Southsea, are being vaccinated.

But not every child is being offered an injection as the risk of the infection spreading is considered low.

Gemma James, 30, has a daughter Deedee, five, who is in Year 1 at Devonshire Infants. She has been told only children in Year R will be vaccinated.

She had booked an appointment for a vaccination at her doctors but it has been cancelled, apparently because it is a PHE matter.

Now, she wants to keep her daughter away from school.

She said: ‘They said it’s low risk, but that’s not no risk.

‘This is my child. There are so many communal areas in the school –it’s a small school.

‘They all share the same toilets and the same lunch hall.

‘I don’t think it’s worth the risk when they could get a vaccination.

‘I’m not very happy about it. We should have the right to decide.

‘I just don’t feel it’s a risk I want to take as a parent.’

Meanwhile, parents at Fernhurst Juniors have told The News they didn’t find out anything about the virus until their children came home from school yesterday with a letter.

The school was closed to pupils on Friday for an inset day, and The News understands parents received a text message informing them that they would receive a letter on their child’s return to the school, but it wasn’t made clear what it was.

Gemma added: ‘None of the Fernhurst parents had been told. They found out via The News and other people.

‘They got a text on Friday saying there’s going to be a letter on Monday.’

Portsmouth City Council said that parents were contacted by text message on Friday, but they were not able to confirm the details of the message.

Steps to avoid virus affecting more people

WHEN a case of hepatitis A occurs in a primary school, an assessment should be carried out to try to establish the source, according to Public Health England.

The local branch of PHE is there to advise on steps that should be taken to control the virus and reduce the chances of more people becoming infected.

In this case, investigations have revealed that all eight cases are linked to each other through household contact.

Dr Anand Fernandes, consultant in communicable disease control for Public Health England Wessex said: ‘All the information gathered points to the fact that there is no evidence of risk of transmission within the school environment.

‘The cases represent infection acquired in a household at least four weeks ago.

‘This includes an eighth case in a child who was also in close household contact with the cases.

‘The symptoms of hepatitis A take between two to six weeks to appear after initial exposure to the virus. Vaccination is only effective if given within two weeks of exposure.

‘The incident control team has therefore recommended that only children and some adults closely associated with specific class groups in both the Devonshire and Fernhurst schools be offered vaccination on a precautionary basis.

‘Any children not in these groups are extremely unlikely to benefit from vaccination but PHE has said the GPs can decide whether or not to offer vaccination to individuals on the basis of their clinical judgement.’

Hepatitis A is a viral liver infection which causes a range of symptoms which may include fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, sometimes leading to jaundice. It is often linked to foreign travel.

Symptoms usually clear up within eight weeks, although occasionally last up to six months. It is an unusual infection in the UK.

PHE advises that good hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before eating, is the most effective way to prevent the spread.

Young children’s hand washing should be supervised.